The 17th December 2014 will be one of those “remember where you were dates” that will stay with me for many, many years to come. For my talented friend, Diana Dodog, it marked the beginning of a period of time at the end of an amazing year for her which saw her win Irish Masterchef 2014, launch her amazing Food Truck gourmet food experience in West Cork (http://www.fooddepotireland.com), and culminating in a wonderful supper club experience to remember; being listed in McKenna’s Guide for 2015 and being listed as one of the Top 10 Hot Chefs to watch in 2015 by the same magnanamous duo! Phew!
In the same breath, 2014 had also been a staggeringly excellent, if not tiring, year for Kela and Stephen, owners extraordinare of Dunowen House in Ardfield, former home of Jimi Hendrix guitarist and west cork local Noel Redding. Purchasing and rennovating this legendary rock star home in west Cork was no mean feat, but the finished article is beautiful, tasteful and packed full with memorabilia from Noel Redding’s time on display for you to oggle, thumb and admire! http://dunowenhouse.ie
By some happy coincidence (sorry, coincidence doesn’t exist in West Cork – it’s more destiny than anything), Dunowen House and Diana “Masterchef” Dodog came together to devise a series of Supper Clubs hosted at the House and delivered with precision by Diana, Mike and her team. As soon as the date was set, I booked in. And I was lucky I was so quick off the mark as within no time the event was completely booked out. So followed the announcement of a second event to be held on Women’s Little Christmas on 6th January 2015. This too also booked out in super quick time. It’s currently operating a waiting list, but look, get yourself on it, but you will probably need to wait until another one is announced, fingers crossed that they do!
So on a dark, wet and windy December night the hubby and I ventured out to Dunowen House (I say ventured, but I really mean “pootled out the road for 20 mins”) to arrive and be greeted by Kela and Stephen, Prosecco in hand and the amazing scent of Diana’s cooking wafting over us as we arrived. There were 37 people coming and we didn’t know who we would be seated with – excitement! Whilst we entered the “Rock and Roll Room” to nervously see if we recognised anybody, we fast realised that nope, we didn’t know anyone by face. After parking ourselves by the roaring fire, the canapes arrived offically also know as “Ice Breakers”! As we all tucked into delicious moresels of Cauliflower Fritters with Harissa dipping sauce; Black Pudding Crostini with Apple Remoulade and Smoked Salmon on Brown Bread with Caviar all of a sudden we all had something in common to talk about – and wasn’t food afterall the reason we were all brought together that night? We ended up chatting away to the absolutely lovely couple who own and run Baan Sujjitra Thai Restaurant in Clonakilty (highly recommended click here) as well as Sharon Shannon’s brother who had just returned from China after being requested to play at a concert in Beijing to honour President Higgins’ state visit there and a lovely couple who are restauranteurs in Cork and had booked the House for their wedding for April 2015.
When dinner was announced and we were asked to take our seats, we found ourselves in the company of the Fudge Queen – Mella of Mella’s Fudge and her friend and colleague, Fern. We then realised we were on the “Chef’s Table” – a great treat as I was able to poke my head into the kitchen from time to time to have a look at what was happening within! Fascinating stuff!
Quickly enough, the first course came out. A beautiful, beautiful fillet of wild Atlantic Cod cooked to perfection served with a roasted red pepper coulis, refreshing tomato salsa, potato crisps and micro herbs. Absolutely delicious. The potato gave a lovely counter-texture to an otherwise soft dish; the pepper sauce giving lovely deep earthy base notes to the dish whilst the tomato salsa and micro herbs adding those all important top notes which resulted in one perfectly cooked and perfectly balance plate of food.
Wow! BOOM! etc etc….everyone was blown away already and we had only just begun. If this didn’t indicate that we were in for a real treat tonight then really, what were you doing there?
Plates cleared, the anticpation for the next course in the room was high. We had all tasted something amazing and we were all hooked, wanting more of it.
Happily we weren’t long in waiting. Plates were delivered and Diana introduced her main course: Rib Roast of West Cork Beef (care of MJ O’Neill’s, Clonakilty), served with a slow cooked beef cheek meatball, shallot puree, pickled shallot, freshly picked tender steam broccoli and parnsip crisps; served up with smoked duck fat roast potatoes.
I just don’t know how to start with describing how utterly amazing the flavours in this dish was. Yes, the beef was amazing – again beautifully cooked and tender. But for me the real stars of the show were found in the meat ball, the shallot puree and the potatoes. As best as I can describe without the aid of taste-o-vision, the meat ball was made up of beef cheek (same animal as the prime rib came from) slow cooked for a very long time in red wine and MAGIC as far as I could tell, pulled then moulded into little balls and coated in polenta grain and deep fried. Give me a moment while I compose myself after reliving that memory again! The shallot puree…sweet, deep and almost smokey in flavour and smooth as anything. The perfect accompaniement to the beef. The pickled shallot helped to refresh the pallet in between mouthfulls without stripping any of the other flavours away. The broccoli was crisp, fresh and delicious. Now, the potatoes. I thought that there was little that could be done to improve upon a great roast potato, but on this night I was proved wrong. Smoked duck fat which is a by-product of the duck smoking process (of course) is collected by Ummera Smokehouse. Why they are not selling this product commercially I do not know, because let me tell you, it elevates the humble roast potato into something you will never forget! Put all of these flavours together in your mouth, and you are transported…food heaven, right there! If that was going to have been my last meal on earth, I would have died happy!
“How is the beef?” Diana asked me. “I have no words Diana – this is simply amazing food”. “Come with me” she says, “I want to show you something”. And off I am whisked into the kitchen where Diana and the team have been busy prepping the plates for the next course: the cheese course. Row upon row of plates filled with local cheeses, most notably the Buffalo Blue from Toonsbridge Dairy, homemade crackers and beetroot three ways: a chutney, a pickle with candy stripe and golden beets and a syrup. This was the perfect amount of cheese – the accompaniements matching well and of course completely seasonal and the homemade crackers made with care and attention to detail.
Finally, the desert course. A beautifully cooked chocolate fondant sitting ontop a pool of salted caramel sauce; a chocolate and vanilla mini macaron, homemade vanilla ice cream and a biscuit crumb. Who cooks fondant en masse for nearly 40 people and they all turn out perfect? Diana, that’s who. The kind of confidence in cooking knowledge and skill that makes pulling something like this off look like a walk in the park. Tasted devine, and again for me the thing that brought it all together was the caramel sauce which you didn’t even know was there until you dug into the pudding. I like that. I like it a lot when the thing that isn’t supposed to be the star on the plate ends up being just as or more delicious as the star itself. That’s clever – that’s a level of knowledge of flavour and texture and umami that is a rare talent and Diana has it in bucket loads.
The thing about this menu is everything about this menu. It’s the time taken to devise it which includes sourcing of the local primary ingredients; identifying products that even the producer hasn’t identified as a commercial product yet (as in the smoked duck fat); getting the flavour balances right; the ideal portion size, the preparation which can take days and finally the delivery. It was clear that so much work had gone into this menu and you could taste it, even see it staring up at you from the plate. Food designed to please all the senses simultaneously, every course, every mouthful. And what makes all of this more impressive is this: OK, this was a sit down, fine dining experience. But if you visit Diana and Mike Thursday – Sunday at their Gourmet Food Truck, I guarantee 100% that you will sense the exact same level of care and attention to detail in the ingredients and preparation for €7 ahead, as we did at the Supper Club Experience for €55 which, by the way, taking everything into consideration, I think represents exceptional value for money.
A whole room full of happy people!
A word about Kela and Stephen – to say thank you for working with Diana to give us diners a wonderful night to remember. From the moment we walked in the door, to the moment we left, it felt more like we were visiting old friends than prioprietors of the outstanding Dunowen House. Exceptional hosts, charming and convivial – an absolute winning combination for success.
To Diana and to Mike and the team, thank you for feeding us such wonderful things and I can only wish you the best for a rerun of the same on 6th January!
During the supper club, I had grown 10 times happier and was two chins to the good! Diana (left) and Yours Truly (right)
To my dear readers, who knows when the next Dunowen House Supper Club will take place, but I urge you to keep your ear to the ground and book early. Be aware though, that I may well come and find you and wrestle you to the ground to take your place….!
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